Time to get the lead out.
New legislation introduced in the City Council would require annual testing of lead levels in New York City parks.
The bill instructs the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to test lead levels in city-owned and operated parks, including water fountains and playground soil. If lead levels are unacceptably high, the Department will be required to remediate those levels immediately.
Currently, the city does not test for lead in parks or the thousands of water fountains in them.
Introduced on May 10 by City Councilmember Mark Levine, the Chair of the Council’s Health Committee, the bill is part of a legislative package designed to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by strengthening the city’s lead laws.
The legislation would lower the threshold for what counts as elevated blood lead to 5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), which matches the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) standard. The city’s current level, which is the standard used to instigate a mandatory investigation, is three times higher.
In 2016 over 5,000 children tested positive for high levels of lead, or about 1.65 percent of the one- to two-year-olds tested annually as required by state law. Though that number is down from 12.5 percent in 2005, the legislative package will require the city to conduct more thorough investigations when children test positive for high lead blood levels.
State law requires all children to be tested for lead at ages one and two, and children up to age six to be tested if they are found to be at risk. New York City law also requires blood lead testing of children under age six who are enrolled in child care.
New York City has one of the highest testing rates in the state – more than 80 percent of New York City children are tested at least once before their third birthday.
“While our city has made great strides in the battle against lead poisoning, far too many of our children continue to test positive for dangerously high levels of lead in their blood,” said Levine. “We must attack this challenge everywhere that children are at risk – in our homes, in our schools, and in our parks. This sweeping package of legislation will put New York City at the forefront nationally in this vital public health fight, and as a former Chair of the Parks Committee, I’m especially proud to be introducing legislation that will make our parks and playgrounds safer and healthier for New York families.”
LiUNA Local 78, a union representing workers in charge of lead paint removal, commended the Council for addressing the issue but suggested that the bills do not go far enough.
In a statement, LiUNA Local 78 Business Manager Edison Severino stated that lead poisoning should be treated as a public health issue, and said laws should mandate greater protections for workers.
“It is critical to understand that there is no safe level of exposure to lead and that anybody is at risk of exposure – that includes all New York City tenants and particularly workers in charge of lead abatement,” Severino said.
“These laws also must ensure that lead removal is done by qualified and certified professionals. If NYCHA, a government entity, failed to complete lead inspections in its buildings, imagine what private landlords can get away with,” he added.